STORIES FROM FANCIFUL WRITER
People’s writer of Turkmenistan Kayum Tangrykuliev is rightfully considered the patriarch of the Turkmen children’s literature. In this area, he won many national and foreign awards and honorary titles, and most importantly, the love of many generations of young readers who even today recite his poems, sing his songs, read his fairy tales, stories and novels with interest.
A poet, prose writer, publicist, translator, literary scholar, editor and teacher, he devoted his entire life to writing children’s books. Thanks to Kayum Tangrykuliev, national literature for children became known far beyond Turkmenistan, arousing people’s interest in a distant unique country, its nature and wildlife, ancient traditions and customs, rich culture and art.
According to literary critics, about two hundred books by the Turkmen writer were published by different publishing houses of the world over three decades of his literary career. Their total circulation amounted to almost 30 million copies. The works by Kayum Tangrykuliev were translated into four dozen languages. There is, perhaps, no other writer in Turkmenistan whose works were translated so much into the languages of the peoples of the world.
At the same time, thanks to Tangrykuliev’s own translations, boys and girls and their parents can read in the Turkmen language the wonderful world children’s classical works by Pyotr Yershov, Sergey Mikhalkov, Agniya Barto, Gianni Rodari, Janis Rainis and other famous prose writers and poets. The poem “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin” by Shota Rustaveli was also translated into the Turkmen language by Kayum Tangrykuliev, and, in 1986, the book “Merry Swing” was published, combining the works by more than one hundred foreign poets translated by Tangrykuliev into his native language. Kayum Tangrykuliev was the first of the Central Asian writers to receive in 1980 the prestigious international award – the Hans Christian Andersen Honorary Diploma – which is awarded to the best children’s writers and illustrators.
Kayum was born in 1930, in the village of Kyzyl-Ayak, Kerki district of Chardzhou region (now Lebap province) located in the east of the country. From the early age, Kayum helped his father graze sheep and went hunting with him. Sitting by the fire in shepherd camps, he learned about the nature and wildlife of the desert, listened to folk parables and fairy tales, as well as interesting stories about the harsh and fascinating life of people whose fates were closely connected with nature.
The Great Patriotic War dramatically changed his life, like all the children of the country. It is no coincidence that this generation is called “children of war”. They forged the Victory in the home front in the rural hinterland on a par with adults. They worked until sunset in collective farm fields, picking cotton to the last box, helping adults grow silkworms. Beginning the fifth grade of his study at school, Kayum started working as a rural postman. He delivered a variety of correspondence – newspapers, magazines and long-awaited frontline letters-triangles – first on a donkey and then on a bicycle given to him by the collective farm administration.
Kayum’s first experiments with poetry started at a boarding school in the city of Kerki, where the would-be writer continued his studies in the post-war years. He was very proud that his first poems were published by the well-known publishing houses. Poem “Girlfriends” was published by the regional newspaper in 1948 and poem “Camp” – by the republican “Mydam Tayar” (On Stand-by) newspaper.
In the early 50s of the last century, being a philology student at the Turkmen State University, Tangrykuliev literally plunged into the artistic environment, met famous writers, attended thematic meetings, participated in discussions and already then set the goal of theoretically comprehending the development paths and future of the national children’s literature. In his student years, he also started the editorial and translation work. First, he worked as an editor and senior editor at Turkmengosizdat, and in the 60s he worked as the head of the department of children’s and youth literature. Kayum Tangrykuliev recalled with gratitude famous Turkmen poet Pomma Nurberdiyev, who appreciated his poems for children and opened the way for him to professional literature.
Kayum Tangrykuliev’s first collection of poems and fairy tales “Golden Alchik” was published in 1956. There was no doubt that the Turkmen literature got a talented children’s writer who understood the soul of a child with great subtlety. The young author’ talent was noted not only in his native republic. Poems and fairy tales by Kayum Tangrykuliev were regularly published on the pages of such popular children’s magazines and newspapers as “Funny Pictures” and “Murzilka”. His books were published by the Moscow publishing houses “Children’s Literature”, “Kid”, “Young Guard”, “Music”, “Rainbow”.
In 1960–1963, Kayum Tangrykuliev studied children’s Turkmen literature of the post-war period as a researcher at the Institute of Language and Literature of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan. He got the degree of candidate of philological sciences for his work on this topic. In the following years, he worked at the editorial offices, the Ministry of Education, taught at universities and attended many international symposiums and festivals of children’s books, met with world-famous children’s authors. He won well-deserved prizes and awards, including prestigious ones such as the Magtymguly State Prize (1971) and the aforementioned honorary diploma of Andersen (1980), the Order “Badge of Honor” (1980), the medal of the Peace Foundation (1982), the title of People’s Writer of Turkmenistan (1984). Kayum Tangrykuliev was twice awarded the medal “For Love for the Fatherland” – the first time in 1996 and the second time by the decree of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in 2016 (posthumously).
Kayum Tangrykuliev regarded the title of children’s writer as the highest honor. He never forgot his devoted friends – young readers – for whom he founded “Korpe” (Kid) magazine in 1982 which was published in Turkmen and Russian languages. As founder and editor-in-chief, he invited well-known poets and prose writers, artists and translators to work for the new children’s magazine, including Sergey Baruzdin, Yakov Akim, Nury Bayramov, Vladislav Bakhrevsky, Izat Klychev, Kerim Kurbannepesov, Yagmur Pirkuliyev, Atamurad Chopanov. Many of them were his friends and associates. “Korpe” won popularity right from the first issues. Both children and adults eagerly awaited and read with pleasure the regular issue of the magazine.
The children’s world of Kayum Tangrykuliev’s works features mischievous foals, bold hares and boastful turtles, a goat with a bell and inanimate objects. His stories about life of children, their hobbies, games and dreams are also entertaining and instructive. His books help develop children’s imagination, broaden their world view. They help children learn about habits of animals, secrets of cooking Turkmen dishes, variety of fruits of their native land, meaning of Turkmen names and variety of national games. Plunging into a magical story, one can make unforgettable journeys and identify good and evil.
Sergei Mikhalkov, Nikolai Tikhonov, Mustai Karim, Aleksey Aleksin, as well as Turkmen writers Berdy Kerbabaev, Kerim Kurbannepesov, Beki Seytakov, Berdynazar Khudainazarov and other famous writers from different countries and peoples spoke highly of the Turkmen colleague’s works.
As Sergei Mikhalkov wrote, “I am pleased and happy with the fact that a son of an ordinary farmer from Turkmenistan has become a favorite children’s writer. In all republics, in many countries of the world, Kayum Tangrykuliev’s poems and stories are translated into different languages. They are read and memorized by children of different nations in the same way. Kayum’s books are interesting and full of humor. Tangrykuliev writes excitingly and cheerfully. He always knows what will be interesting to read and what will be boring. And his stories are never boring.”
However, it is Kayum Tangrykuliev who helps others better understand why he was faithful to the once chosen path, as his most important works comprise scientific studies such as articles, monographs, textbooks, stories about writers, in which he reasons on the development of children’s literature that are significant not only for the national but also world literary science. Among them is his main monograph “Turkmen Children’s Literature” published by the Moscow publishing house “Children’s Literature” in 1972. The original work differs from others in terms of narration, the way of presenting rich factual material. It was translated into Russian by the writer’s friend, prose translator Vladislav Bakhrevsky. One of the distinguishing features of this literary work is the analysis of Turkmen children’s literature in the context of the development of world fiction for children.
Kayum answers the question “what does it take to become a children’s writer” in the following way. “One should remain a grown-up child.” He was convinced that a book should become the first friend for kids. Therefore, the role of a children’s writer is especially demanding and honorable, whose soul should be full of kindness and responsiveness. “Uncle Kayum”, “Kayum-aga” – this is how kids and older children called him, with whom the writer could easily communicate on a range of topics.
In his poems and stories, without excessive didactics, the writer gradually introduces young readers and listeners to the world of adults, convinces his little friends of the fact that nothing compares to the bread grown by their own hands. It is no coincidence that his lines, later used in the title of one of his books “Dig and plant with your own hands and the harvest will be sweet”, began to be perceived as folk wisdom. Even in his poems for kids, Kayum Tangrykuliev is not a moralist. Children, listening to or reading his works, can understand by themselves how important and pleasant it is to do good, not to be lazy, love animals and take care of their loved ones.
It is also important that Kayum Tangrykuliev’s poetry and prose focus not only on the children’s audience, but also on adults, because it is mainly parents who read to children. The writer believed that the main task of children’s literature is not only to expose a child to some topic that is important for his future but also writing skills that can touch feelings of an adult who reads this book.
Talking about Kayum Tangrykuliev’s personality, one cannot but note that he was a passionate person. His relatives and friends recall that even in his mature years, Kayum-aga loved to play football. He would go for a stroll every day around the square with the monument to Magtymguly. The writer planted 700 trees at his summer cottage. He collected stamps and badges. He spent time playing chess and backgammon in the company of his neighbors and friends.
His life was rich in personal acquaintances with celebrities of the literary world, making it possible to share his impressions with readers of the “Stories about Writers” column of the “Garagum” magazine. Kayum Tangrykuliev spoke about many Turkmen and foreign writers. At the same time, he published the autobiographical novel “Gaili Garadza”, books “Selected Letters” and “The Diary of Kayum Tangrykuliev”.
His friends, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren remember him as an energetic, agile and hospitable person. Shortly before his death in 2014, the writer published ten volumes of his works in a small edition, presenting them to children. He rightly considered literary work his main legacy.
Today, not only his great-grandchildren but also new generations of young readers get acquainted with the writer’s works. Reading his books, they learn to love their homeland, appreciate the work of people, overcome difficulties and meet every new day with a smile.